The City as a Forest: The Urban Nestwork Invites Community Members to Rewild Their Neighborhoods

Azlan Nur Saidy, co-founder of the Urban Nestwork, is an aspiring urban planner, student of the natural world, and a recently indoctrinated birder, excited to explore the intersections between human health and the natural environment. The SFU Student Social Innovation Fund, a collaboration between RADIUS and Embark, provides project funding of up to $1000. Below, we get an update from the Urban Nestwork, a project team funded earlier this year.
What if I told you that you are in nature right now? Ridiculous, isn’t it? You can’t really be in nature walking down a concrete street, can you? Listen closely however, and you may be surprised! Our city is full of birds, bees, coyotes, and salmon that are just on the edge of our vision. If you walk too fast, they may just disappear before you can spot them. Slow down, however, and the city suddenly becomes a forest. Eagles soar above Trout Lake, salmon swim upstream in a residential neighborhood, and whales wander into False Creek. Amazing, isn’t it? Unfortunately, the way we currently build our cities also destroys habitats for the animals that live in them. Forests and other habitats are often cleared to make way for human homes and businesses, and the animals that live in them are left without a place to go. Urban life makes it hard to think about nature because it is often pushed to the background of human activity. Is there anything we can do? The answer is a resounding YES! We can incorporate nature into our neighborhoods, homes and everyday lives to rewild ourselves and our city.
The Urban Nestwork, a group of SFU students, came together to increase accessibility to nature for our friends, family, neighbors and city. While brainstorming ideas of how to create this connection for people, our team had a close encounter with a northern flicker – a native woodpecker to the west coast – and instantly felt a tangible connection to nature. We wanted to share this connection we felt with our community.
As Urban Nestwork, we provide do-it-yourself bird house kits that community members can adopt. Uproot, a local wood waste diversion organization, has partnered with us to provide upcycled wood materials for our bird houses. We invite community members to not only build a bird house for native birds whose populations are in decline but also build a visceral connection to the home they are offering to the birds. Seeing and hearing birds use something that you created can be a powerful tool in bridging the sense of displacement between people and the natural world.
Urban Nestwork Pic #1
The funds we raise through this project are being reinvested into additional ways to foster connections with nature, such as educational workshops. As part of the Wild About Vancouver Outdoor Education Festival this past April, the Urban Nestwork hosted a community bird house building event at the Mount Pleasant Neighborhood House. It was a big moment for us because it was the first time we introduced our project to the community.
During the event, a conversation with a participant embodied one of the biggest challenges for this project: balancing the needs of our users, the birds, and the humans who would be helping to provide them with a habitat. How could we meet the needs of birds? And, how could we get humans to care for and acknowledge them? While we were facilitating our event at the festival, a participant came up to me and asked if the city was doing anything to get rid of crows because she found them irritating. My first reaction was defensive. I began spewing facts about the benefits of biodiversity but that seemed to turn their attention away. I later told this story to my mentor. She suggested that I be more empathetic to the person’s concerns. Crows can be annoying! However, there are other ways of learning to live with them, that don’t involve getting rid of them. I learned the importance of being aware and accepting of the feelings behind people’s attitudes, even if I don’t agree with them. By validating individuals’ personal experiences, they are more likely to listen and begin a conversation about making room for other species in their lives.
Urban Nestwork Pic #2Often, the challenges that social/ecological innovators attempt to tackle are controversial. Once I began to listen to people’s concerns, I began to connect more with myself and my community. I trusted and, admittedly, underestimated my community’s passion for biodiversity. As soon as workshop participants started to arrive, I felt more at ease. People started smiling, laughing and having a good time while banging nails and wood together to create their very own birdhouses that they would then put up in their own homes. We not only explored our sense of place in the natural world, but we also renewed our relationships with our neighbors, friends and family. If I were to provide advice to someone working on a social or environmental issue, it would be to trust in the work you are doing and listen to the needs and concerns of the humans (and non-humans) that you are working with.
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